I am writing this with the glow of a head torch in a dark, very dank and flooded hotel as the rain hammers down on the windows. Yet this setting feels like a major victory.
For one, I have a bed. Last night, like thousands of evacuees from New Bern, a town now immersed in 10 feet of water, we slept on tables in a shelter. We had been trying to make it to Jacksonville, but the rivers had become rapids.
The shelter resembled a field hospital – the dark corridors were punctuated by the sound of discomfort, lined with the elderly and many in need of medical care. Some were sleeping on stretchers, others sitting in wheelchairs or standing with open wounds. Most, like us, simply looked exhausted – all thrust together with strangers. And it could be weeks before they can return home.
But this afternoon, we made it out, thanks to the brilliant steady driving of my cameraman Chris and the nimble navigation of my producer Leo. It was a hairy drive to Jacksonville, littered with abandoned cars. Most roads, including the main highway that stretches onto Wilmington, are impassable.
We’ve spent two days with no electricity or water, along with nearly one million others. It could be weeks till power is restored to some areas. After three days of no showers, it starts to ware on you.
But at our hotel in Jacksonville, I meet a mother trying to feed her daughter in total darkness. Immediately I know how much harder she has had it. It’s just before midnight and things are looking up though – there is the first glimmer of lights on the other side of the road. And, after two hours of waiting in line in the only place selling food, we got on our hands on the last three hotdogs. After three days of nothing but cereal bars and diminishing water supplies, it feels amazing.
Everyone knew Hurricane Florence would wreak havoc. But in New Bern, where we spent the day with the North Carolina National Guard, they are still struggling to persuade people to leave. We saw around 60 people, some waist-deep outside their homes. Only two wanted to be rescued.
Many decided not to leave because they couldn’t afford to pay for a hotel to stay in. Even if they could have, most are fully booked for the next two weeks.
I’ve covered four hurricanes since arriving in America in January 2016. Each time you are reminded of the cruel and unpredictable hand that nature can deal you. But what struck me the most about Hurricane Florence, is how little there was in the way of protection. No barriers, no significant flood defences – just exposed low lying coastal areas that had little chance.